“How does my hair look?” my friend asked me the other day. “I told the stylist not to make it flat, but she made it flat. Do you think it’s flat? What do you think of the color?”
I had heard enough about my friend’s hair over the past days, weeks and months. I was so done. “Can you shut up about your hair?” I scolded. “We have other stuff we need to talk about.” That made her stop short. The silence was numbing.
“Let’s talk about my hair,” I said, filling the silence, only half joking. “Do you like it better when I blow it out, or better when I wear it curly?”
Get a couple of women talking about their hair, and everything goes on hold.
In 2001, this is what Hillary Rodham Clinton purportedly told the graduating class at Yale:
“The most important thing I have to say today is that hair matters. Pay attention to your hair. Because everyone else will.”
It seems a lot of us, in my experience- maybe 99% of us- feel this way. I know this is utterly shallow, preposterous and true. How can hair matter so much? Does hair really count as much as our political views, our professions, our religion, our world view, or even the car we choose to drive or the clothes we wear?
My eldest daughter (as part of the 1%), thinks I am nuts when I bug her (incessantly) about her hair: “Did you blow dry your hair for the interview/the important date/lunch with Grandma? Did you wear it down? It looks so pretty when you wear it down.” I have a hunch she lies to me about it and just tells me what I want to hear. But I bug her because I believe Hair Matters. A lot. No matter what our ethnicity, who we are, what we do, it defines us.
“Hair is Huge,” says Rose Weitz, author of Rapunzel’s Daughters: What Women’s Hair Tells Us about Women’s Lives, a major sociological examination of everyone’s favorite topic. “Our hair is one of the first things others notice about us and one of the primary ways we declare our identity to them. Hair, and appearance more generally, matters in everyone’s lives, but especially in women’s lives. There is a wealth of research data that says that attractive people, but especially attractive women, get better grades in school, more dates, more marriage proposals, higher salaries, better job offers, and so on.” Hair Matters.
I was born with blond, curly hair. When I was little, my mother made Shirley Temple curls in my hair by tying it up with shoelaces and rags before I went to bed. Apparently my hair was pretty darn cute in those early days. Too bad I wasn’t old enough to remember.
But I do remember this: In 2nd grade, on the day of the Vernal Equinox, the rebirth of flora and fauna apparently got my mom’s creative juices humming. She made a beautiful bun on the very top of my head before school. “The bun is a nest,” she explained to me as she bobby-pinned a fake (thank goodness) Robin Red Breast into my hair-nest. I was the only girl with three brothers. I guess she couldn’t help herself.
When I arrived at school my teacher was so delighted, she sent me around to all the second grade classrooms. “This bird in a nest symbolizes the first day of spring,” I explained shyly in my little girl voice, pointing to the top of my head and parroting the words my mother had made me memorize. All the kids giggled.
Mom, I forgive you, but really, is it a surprise that I grew up with hair issues?
By the time I was a preteen, my blond curls had turned to brown and frizzy. It seemed to me as if everyone but me had been born with lovely, long, straight hair. I was miserable.
Exacting a bit of revenge on my mother for the Robin Red Breast incident, I pleaded, whined and cried until she ironed my hair in the basement before school each morning.
Over the years, I have spent a lot of time and money on my hair–a variety of small appliances, highlights, low lights, covering the gray, curly product, straight product, a little something to enhance the shine. Sometimes I wear my hair curly, sometimes straight, depending on the mood I’m in. But the truth is, I do what makes me feel confident and happy, because there is only one other person who really pays attention. And it is not my husband.
“What did you do with your hair–I hate the color,” my mother told me the other day, as only a mother can do. I wasn’t offended–I am used to it. If you can’t count on your mother to tell you the truth about your hair, who can you count on?
My mother has let her own hair go gray and curly. I wish I could exact a little revenge for the blunt criticism, but the truth is, her hair is beautiful this way.
I think I just may have to put in a call to my daughter and see how her hair is doing. Because it matters. And I’m the one who can tell her the truth.